NAPA – Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden is walking without a boot these days. That’s a positive step in his recovery, but it doesn’t imply he’s cured. A surgically repaired stress fracture in his foot still needs time to heal, and the second-year pro has to get back in true football shape after that.
“He’s able to do some things in the training room,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “Again, he’s still out of the boot, but he hasn’t gotten on the field and done any type of football activity, so I think we’re still a little bit to go before we get him out here.”
It’s unlikely Hayden will be back during training camp, and it remains uncertain whether he’ll be ready to start the regular season. That leaves a hole at one cornerback spot, which Hayden was supposed to fill.
If the glass is half-full, at least the Raiders have time to determine their best option.
Right now, they’re experimenting with a few. The two best:
-- Carlos Rogers plays outside corner in the base defense and slide to the slot in the nickel package.
-- Chimdi Chekwa takes over for Hayden, leaving Rogers to play slot corner exclusively.
The Raiders won’t be forced into a decision. They’ll let the competition play out during the preseason, while gauging Hayden’s progress. After four practices, it seems the Raiders have some better-than-expected options to choose from.
[RELATED: Life without Hayden]
“We’ll let it play out as training camp goes on,” Allen said, “but I expect there to be a lot of competition at the back end of our defense.”
Chekwa has practiced well early on, and a continuation of that trend could set up an ideal scenario to keep Rogers in the slot. But, if the veteran is called on to do more, he’ll be ready for it.
“When I first signed up this offseason, the coaches told me that playing both spots was a possibility,” Rogers said. “They said ‘don’t just come to camp assuming you’re going to play inside. That’s not what we’re looking for out of you.’ We brought you here to compete. I’ve been right across the bridge for the last few years, so they know what I can do and how I play.”
Rogers is a known commodity. At 33 years old, Rogers has proven a tough, durable competitor well suited for sub packages. He has extensive experience playing outside as well, but the Raiders will wait and see how Chekwa shakes out.
The third-year pro from Ohio State put himself in a more prominent position with decent play near the end of 2013 and hard work this offseason.
“He’s had a good camp to this point,” Allen said. “He did some things in the spring that we were impressed with. He’s a guy that since I’ve gotten here he’s continued to get better and better every day.
“He understands he’s got an opportunity. We’ve given him an opportunity here and he’s taken advantage of it. I think any time you get a guy that has talent and works extremely hard, they’re going to get better as a football player, and he certainly has.”
Confidence is a byproduct of his efforts. He’s learning to exceed pure physical talent by understanding offenses and how to counter when being attacked.
“As a young player in this league, you can certainly play ball,” Chekwa said. “That’s a given. The next step is playing well with others and learning how to deal with situations on the fly. Experience is the only solution for that. When you get to that point, that’s when you can really take off and improve as a player.”
Hayden’s absence has created opportunities and reps for others. It’s also allowed the Raiders to realize they might be deeper at cornerback than originally thought. While players like Rogers, Chekwa and even rookie TJ Carrie are looking for significant playing time, they all know having Hayden healthy is a priority.
“I want DJ back on the field as much as anyone because I know he’s talented and that he can help us win,” Rogers said. “I may get some extra reps while he’s out and he may take some when he gets back, but it doesn’t change much for me. I’m going to continue to try and make plays and be a factor in this defense.”